Summary: Joe searches for a mother figure in his life,
Rated: K (13,770 words)
A Special Kind of Love Series:
A Special Kind of Love
As Sarah Miller came out of the mercantile store, she shielded her eyes with her arm against the bright glare of the sun and tried to balance the parcels she was carrying at the same time. The street was busy at this time of the day and she struggled to edge her way through the crowd and reach her buggy. As she passed the crowd outside the saloon she was aware of the appraising looks that she received from many of the men who were lounging there.
Sarah was getting used to being the focus of men’s attention. An available woman was a rare thing in Virginia City, particularly one as attractive as she was. Still vibrant in her late thirties, Sarah found that she spent much of her time dodging the unwanted attentions that were forced upon her whenever she came into town, which was rare. A quiet woman by nature, she had become even more reserved lately since the tragedy that had changed her life so dramatically.
She kept her head down as she loaded her parcels into the buggy and tried to avoid the stares from those who tried to catch her eye. Today was one of those days when she was feeling quite tired, her energy quite sapped in the hot midday sun. When the parcels were all loaded she leant against the buggy for a moment and brushed her arm across her brow with a sigh. What she really could do with was a cool drink before the ride back to the house. She turned and crossed the street, hesitated for a moment, then entered Daisy’s Kitchen – a small but hospitable restaurant run by the sweet hearted Daisy that Sarah got on with so well.
The bell on the door tinkled as she entered, and Sarah stood for a moment relishing the coolness on her face as she noticed the drop in temperature from outside. She opened her eyes again to the sight of Daisy bustling out of the kitchen area. ‘Sarah dear, how are you? I haven’t seen you for days!’
Sarah smiled at the woman she considered her closest friend in the town. ‘I’m fine Daisy, just a little worn out with all this heat. I think I could do with a cool drink before I start off home.’ She seated herself next to the window where she could watch the passing traffic and keep an eye on her buggy across the street. Removing her gloves while she waited, she thought of how many times she and Sam had sat at this very table and enjoyed a quiet dinner or lunch together. She sighed, remembering happier times that would never again return.
‘Penny for your thoughts,’ said Daisy as she sat next to her and placed a glass on the table between them.
Sarah smiled at her. ‘I was just thinking of how many times I’ve been in here. Sam and I used to love our quiet times together having one of your delicious meals.’
Daisy put a hand over her friend’s hand. ‘Still hurts doesn’t it?’
‘Mmm. I just can’t believe that it’s been two years already. It seems like only yesterday that Sam ….’ She shook her head and straightened up. ‘No! I’m not going to allow myself to do this again. Sam is dead and there’s no point living in the past. I know that I have to ….’ She stopped as she heard shouting from the street.
Outside the crowd was buzzing with excitement and clustered around something on the ground. She and Daisy stood to see what it was, but couldn’t make out anything through the heads that blocked their vision. ‘What on earth is going on?’ she asked no one in particular, and Daisy shook her head.
Moments later both women were edging their way through the crowd, to get a clearer look. As the crowd parted in front of them, Sarah gasped with dismay as she stared at the ground before her. Sprawled in the dust lay a young boy, his arms and legs sprawled and his hat flung off beside him. He was laughing uncontrollably and hiccuping slightly as he tried to raise himself from the dusty street. But what caught Sarah’s attention more was the fact that this was the spot where she had parked her buggy, and it was now nowhere to be seen. She stood and stared, without knowing what to say.
Suddenly the crowd parted and Sheriff Roy Coffee marched into the middle of the group. ‘OK folks nothing to see. Stand back now please.’ He glared at the boy on the ground and shook his head. ‘Joe Cartwright, what have you done this time boy?’ Reaching down he pulled the youngster up by the back of his belt and plopped him onto his feet. The boy swayed slightly, and gave the sheriff a silly grin.
‘Hello sheriff Coffee.’ he said. ‘What can I do for you today?’
Roy Coffee held onto him by the arm and sighed. ‘Joe your Pa is sure gunna wallop you this time!’ He began to pull him by the arm down the street, but stopped as Sarah touched him on the shoulder.
‘Excuse me sheriff, but just what happened here? I left my buggy right on this spot, but now it’s gone. Do you have any idea where it might ….’ She stopped as she followed his outstretched finger with her eyes.
‘Is that yours ma’am?’ he asked. The buggy was down at the end of the street on its side. Her brown mare was still tethered to it, but the buggy itself had obviously tilted someway down the street and had been dragged the rest of the way. It was quite badly broken up along the sides and the axle also seemed to be smashed.
Sarah gasped and held her hand to her mouth. ‘Oh no! What happened?’
‘This fool kid did it, the sheriff replied. ‘Came running out of the saloon over there and startled the horse, then tangled himself in the reins and loosened them. The horse bolted I’m afraid. He’s just lucky that no one was in the way to get seriously hurt. Just give me a few minutes to put him somewhere safe and I’ll get some men organised to see what we can do to help you.’
‘Thank you sheriff.’ Sarah whispered as he turned away from her, pulling the giggling boy with him by the arm. She bit her lip and blinked back the tears that she could feel
‘Don’t worry honey.’ Daisy comforted her. ‘The sheriff will see what he can do for you.’
Sarah shook her head in dismay. ‘It doesn’t look as if anything can be done Daisy. The buggy looks as though it’s completely smashed.’
Daisy put her arm around her shoulder. ‘Well if it is you know that Ben Cartwright will get it fixed for you. Once he finds out what that boy of his has done I’m sure he’ll look after it for you.’
Sarah nodded. She knew that Ben Cartwright of all people would see to it. He was known around town as a most honourable man, and even though Sarah had not really had much to do with the Cartwright family at all she knew that Mr Cartwright was a man who could always be trusted to do the right thing.
The two women walked slowly down the street and stood looking at the smashed buggy, and Sarah bent down to pick up the parcels that had been strewn around it. This time the tears really did begin to fall as she watched a group of men pull the buggy up from its sideways position and she saw just how much damage there really was. She knew without asking that it was beyond repair.
‘Best to let me get rid of it you, ma’am,’ said one of the men as he untied the horse. Have you got any way of getting home?’
‘I’ll see to it,’ said Daisy and began to lead her away. Sarah grabbed onto the rein of her horse and led her behind them. As they passed the sheriff’s office they saw him helping young Joseph onto his pinto pony.
‘Sorry about all this ma’am.’ Sheriff Coffee tipped his hat at her. ‘Rest assured that I’ll let Ben Cartwright know what’s happened, and no doubt he’ll be paying you a visit to sort this out.’ Sarah nodded at him. ‘You can lay charges if you want to, you know.’ He added.
Sarah shook her head. ‘What would be the point of that sheriff? The boy obviously isn’t aware of what he’s doing.’
Roy shrugged his shoulders at her. ‘Well one thing’s for sure. He certainly will be aware of what his father will be doing to him when I get him home and he’s sobered up. I have a strong feeling this boy won’t be sitting down for a while to come.’ He mounted his own horse and tipped his hat at her again as he took the pinto’s reins. ‘Be seeing ya, ma’am.’
Sarah and Daisy watched as the two horses carried their riders down the street slowly, one upright in his saddle and the other slumped over, swaying as they went.
Adam straightened up as he heard the horses enter the yard and rolled his eyes as he turned to see Sheriff Coffee leading a familiar pinto behind him. His younger brother was sitting forward in his saddle with eyes downcast, clutching onto the reins with a tight grip. Adam shook his head and put down the axe he had been wielding as he sauntered over to the sheriff. ‘What’s he done now Roy?’ he asked as he watched his brother slide down from his saddle.
‘Hello Adam. Bit of trouble in town again, is your Pa around?’ Roy replied.
‘Roy, good to see you,’ Ben’s voice rang out from the doorway of the barn. ‘What brings you …..’ he stopped as he saw his youngest son, leaning against his horse. He shut his eyes for a moment as if to regain his composure and he strode purposefully over to the waiting men. ‘Do I need to ask?’ he said angrily, and then turned to Little Joe. ‘Joseph, turn around please!’
Little Joe turned and gave his father a mournful look. His face was pale and his eyes were slightly glazed. ‘Hi Pa,’ he said miserably.
‘Don’t you Hi Pa me!’ his father shouted. ‘What have you been doing to make it necessary for sheriff Coffee to have to bring you home young man?’
Joe took a long breath and looked at the ground in front of him.
‘I’m waiting,’ Ben demanded. ‘What do you have to say for yourself?’
Joe took another long breath and lifted his green eyes to look at his father. ‘I don’t feel well,’ he said.
Ben took a step towards him. ‘You’ll feel a whole lot worse if you don’t answer me!’ he declared and grabbed his son by the arm as he studied his face.
‘He caused a bit of a ruckus in town today Ben,’ interrupted Roy. ‘Seems he was in the saloon again. Trouble was that he got evicted for being a bit too rowdy and caused a horse to be startled. The outcome was a broken buggy.’
Ben glared at his son. ‘You’re lucky no one was hurt by the sound of it,’ he shouted. ‘How many times have I told you that you’re not to go into the saloon without me or one of your brothers Joseph?’
Little Joe stared at his father, trying to concentrate on what he was saying to him. Ben shook his arm and repeated, ‘How many times Joseph?’
‘I don … I don’t ….’ Joe tried to answer his father, but the ground in front of him seemed to tilt sideways and he felt an overwhelming urge to fall down to meet it. ‘I don’t ….. Pa I don’t feel well.’
Ben let go of his arm and waved towards the house. ‘Get upstairs now Joseph! You and I will continue this conversation in your room.’
Joe began to move towards the house, but stumbled as he felt the ground tilt again. He clutched at his stomach and took two steps towards the bushes where he promptly began to throw up. The three men stood and watched him for a moment, and then Ben turned his back on the boy and continued his conversation with Roy. ‘I’m sorry he caused so much trouble Roy. Who owned the buggy?’
‘Mrs Miller,’ Roy replied, while continuing to watch the retching boy beside them. ‘She’s a mite upset as you can imagine. ‘Doesn’t seem to want to press any charges though.’
‘I’ll go and see her in the morning,’ Ben replied. He turned his head and called over his shoulder, ‘Have you finished yet?’ The sounds behind him convinced him that the answer was no, so he turned back to Roy and continued. ‘Thanks for bringing him home Roy. Rest assured that I’ll deal with him.’
Roy laughed before replying, ‘I have no doubt about that Ben.’
‘Would you like a drink before you go back to town?’ Ben asked, as the noises behind them subsided.
‘Don’t mind if I do, thanks,’ replied Roy tipping his hat. ‘It’s a long thirsty ride back.’
Ben turned to escort the sheriff into the house, calling over his shoulder as he did so, ‘I’ll see you in your room when you’ve finished there Joseph. And make sure you hurry up.’
Adam leaned against the hitching rail with an amused expression on his face as he watched his father and Roy. As Little Joe straightened up and wiped his mouth on his sleeve he asked casually, ‘Finished?’
Joe nodded and walked over to the horse trough where he splashed water on his face and swallowed a couple of mouthfuls.
‘You’d better get upstairs before Pa comes out for you then,’ said Adam while he continued to watch his brother. ‘Think you can make it?’
‘I don’t ….I don’t know,’ Little Joe replied. Adam leaned over to support him by the arm and pulled none too gently towards the house. Joe stumbled by his brother’s side, his eyes downcast.
‘When are you going to learn?’ remonstrated Adam as they walked across the yard. ‘Honestly Joe, sometimes I think you’ve got no brains at all.’
Joe listened to his brother’s reproaches as Adam pushed the front door open. He still felt sick, and hoped that he would be able to make it to his room without throwing up again.
‘Adam,’ called Ben as they entered the house. ‘Join us for a drink?’ He eyed his youngest son as he continued, ‘I said to get to your room.’
Little Joe looked at the glass in his father’s hand and gagged before bolting for the staircase. The three men smiled as they watched him stumble up the stairs, and Adam reached out for the glass.
“Thanks Pa,’ he said. ‘Nothing like a good drop of whisky.’ They all laughed and lifted their glasses.
The knock on the door startled Sarah out of her thoughts and she put down her knitting and smoothed her skirt as she stood up to answer it. There on the porch stood Mr Cartwright and behind him his young son Joseph. Sarah smiled to herself as she caught the downcast look the boy gave her.
‘Good morning Mrs Miller.’ Mr Cartwright took off his hat and smiled at her. ‘I hope we’re not interrupting you.’
‘Not at all Mr Cartwright. Please come in.’ She motioned inside and he entered the room followed by his son. ‘Do sit down both of you. Could I get either of you a drink?’
‘No thank you.’ Ben replied as he seated himself at the table. Joseph stood behind him, his eyes firmly fixed on the floor.
‘Won’t you be seated also Joseph?’ she asked.
The boy shook his head and his father replied for him. ‘I think Joe would find it more comfortable standing at the moment.’
Sarah nodded, understanding just what he meant. Ben Cartwright had the reputation for being a very loving but firm father, and she had no doubt that after yesterday’s occurrence young Joseph had felt the harshness of his father’s discipline.
‘My son has something to say to you Mrs Miller.’ Ben motioned with his hand to the boy who stepped forward, his hands behind his back. He began what was obviously a well-rehearsed speech.
‘I’m very sorry that I destroyed your buggy yesterday. I shouldn’t have been in the saloon in the first place, and what I did caused you a lot of inconvenience. I’m sorry.’ He lifted his face to look at Sarah and she was startled at the colour of his eyes which were the greenest she had ever seen. At this moment they were looking at her sorrowfully.
There was a moment’s silence before Ben spoke again. ‘And?’
Joseph looked at his father. ‘Oh yes, and I’ll make sure that you get a new buggy to replace the one that I broke. Pa says I’m gunna pay for it.’
Sarah smiled at him. ‘Thank you Joseph. Apology accepted. I must admit that I’ve been a little worried about how I’ll manage without a buggy.’
‘Of course.’ said Ben. ‘We’ll lend you ours until I can arrange for a new one to be delivered to you. It’s the least we can do.’
Sarah sighed, quite relieved. ‘Thank you Mr Cartwright.’
‘Please call me Ben.’
‘Thank you Ben.’
‘Joseph and I have come to an understanding that he will be paying for the buggy.’ Ben gave his son a meaningful look and Joe studied the floorboards again. ‘That means that he has quite a bit of work to do to earn the money to pay me back, and as we are not quite so busy on the Ponderosa at the moment, I wondered if you would like to take advantage of him doing a few repairs for you around here?’
‘Oh Mr … I mean Ben, that really won’t be necessary. Just to have the buggy replaced is enough.’
‘No, Joseph would be happy to earn the money by working for you here, wouldn’t you Joseph?’
‘Yes sir, I mean yes ma’am I would.’ The boy’s small sigh didn’t escape Sarah’s notice, and she tried to keep a straight face as she caught Ben’s eye.
Ben continued. ‘Surely you have some repairs that need doing around here? I mean without a man around to …. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean ….’
Sarah put up a hand to stop him. ‘That’s all right. Yes I do actually have quite a few things that need doing here. I could really do with the help.’
‘Fine. Joseph will bring the buggy over tomorrow and begin work. He’s a good worker if he puts his mind to it, but you just let me know if you need any help in keeping him in line.’
‘I’m sure that we’ll get along just fine.’ Sarah said smiling at Joe, whose face lit up at her as he returned the look.
Ben stood up. ‘Good enough. Thank you for being so understanding about this Mrs Miller.’
‘Ben please call me Sarah.’
Ben smiled at her and she noticed how alike their smiles were. ‘Sarah, then. Joseph wait for me outside.’
Joe moved quickly across the room, needing no second bidding to do as his father had instructed. Ben turned to Sarah again. ‘I’m really sorry the boy has inconvenienced you so much. It really is good of you to be so understanding.’
‘It’s fine Ben, really. I don’t think Joseph knew what he was doing to be truthful.’
‘I know that! That’s usually the boy’s trouble. He doesn’t know half the time what he’s doing because he just doesn’t stop to think. He knows very well that he’s not allowed in the saloon without myself or one of his brothers, yet he continues to disobey me. Sometimes I wonder what I’m going to do with ….’ He stopped, seemingly embarressed. ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to say all that.’
‘It’s all right, Ben.’ Sometimes it helps to talk over your problems with someone.
He nodded. ‘Yes I know. It’s just that the boy is so difficult at times, and trying to be two parents to him is sometimes very hard.’
‘I’m sure it must be.’ She looked at him for a moment. ‘He seems like a lovely boy though, underneath it all.’
Ben raised his eyebrows at her. ‘Mmm, well when he puts his mind to it he can be. I’ll come over in a few days to check up on him. Please let me know if he’s any trouble at all. You only have to send a note home with him when he returns home each afternoon, and I’ll guarantee that he won’t be a bother after that.’
Sarah laughed. ‘I’m sure he wouldn’t. Thank you Ben, I appreciate what you’re doing for me. This really will be a big help.’
He tipped his hat at her and opened the door. ‘See you in a few days then.’
Sarah followed him to the porch and waved as he mounted his horse. Joseph had his hat pushed as far forward as it could go on his head, and sat slumped down in his saddle. As Ben turned his horse to trot out of the yard, the boy lifted a hand and waved back at Sarah before following his father.
Little Joe Cartwright looked at the small house and barn in front of him and sighed. ‘Could be worse,’ he thought to himself, ‘if I have to work at least I get away from Pa for a while and give him a chance to calm down a bit. And Mrs Miller seems OK.’
He mounted the steps to the front door, took off his hat and ran his hand through his curly hair before knocking on the door. ‘Morning Mrs Miller,’ he said politely as Sarah opened the door. ‘I’ve brought the buggy for you.’
Sarah smiled at him. ‘Thank you Joseph, please come inside.’
‘Uh, no thank you ma’am. Pa said I wasn’t to be any trouble to you, and that I had to get straight to work.’ He indicated the buggy with his hand. ‘Pa sent over some tools for me in case you didn’t have some.’
‘I see,’ said Sarah. ‘Well in that case, would you mind putting the buggy over there for me? I’ll come out and show you what has to be done.’
Little Joe nodded at her and went to do as he was bid. Sarah looked at him as he led the horse and buggy over to the barn and began to unhitch it. He seemed like a nice young boy she thought, Ben had certainly taught him some manners along the way. ‘I thought you could start with the roof,’ she said when he came back towards her, the box of tools under his arm. ‘It’s begun to leak rather badly, and I think there are quite a few loose shingles up there.’
‘Do you have a ladder?’ Joe asked.
‘In the barn.’
‘Thanks.’ He walked over to get it.
Later that morning as Sarah listened to the constant hammering coming from the roof, she mused that not only had Ben instilled in the boy some manners, but also a great capacity for work. He had been at it for hours without a break now, and she wondered just how much longer he could keep going.
Walking outside, she shielded her eyes against the sunlight and called up, ‘Joseph?’
A curly head appeared over the top of the house. ‘Yes ma’am?’
‘Would you like a cool drink now?’
‘Sure thing. I’ll come down.’ The head disappeared and two legs began to emerge at the top of the ladder. As he reached ground level he turned to smile at her and reached for the glass she was holding. ‘Thank you ma’am,’ he said and drank thirstily.
Sarah laughed as she looked at the now empty glass in his hand. ‘I think you could do with another one of those. Here, sit down while I get it for you.’
Joe sat down on the edge of the porch and waited. He was glad of the break and stretched his legs, which were beginning to cramp from suddenly being stretched after hours of being in the one position as he perched on the rooftop.
When Sarah returned with another glass and a plate of cookies she smiled to see the expression on his face. ‘Thought you might be hungry.’
‘Yes ma’am! I sure am,’ he replied, his eyes bright as he reached for one. ‘Hey these are as good as Hop Sing’s. You’re a good cook.’
‘Well thank you, I’m glad you like them. Who’s Hop Sing?’
‘Our cook on the Ponderosa. He makes the best cookies ever. Well, apart from yours ma’am.’
‘Joseph, would you do me a favour please?’
He looked at her as he stopped chewing. ‘Sure, what?’
‘Stop calling me ma’am. It makes me feel old.’
‘Well what do I call you then?’
‘How about Sarah? That’s my name.’
‘I don’t know if Pa would approve of calling you that. He always says that I’m supposed to call old people by their …..I mean …. um, not that you’re old, but ….well.’
Sarah smiled at him again. ‘It’s alright Joseph, I understand what you mean. I’m sure your Pa won’t mind as I gave you permission to do it. Is that alright with you?’
‘Sure.’ Joe thought for a moment. ‘Ma’am. I mean Sarah?’
‘If I call you by your first name, then could you not call me Joseph?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well Pa calls me that when he’s mad with me, and I keep thinking I’m in trouble when you say it. Can’t you just call me Joe?’
‘Joe it is then.’ They smiled at each other. ‘It’s just that Joseph is such a lovely name, I really like it. Did your parents name you after someone?’
‘Yep,’ he said stuffing more cookies into his mouth, ‘Pa’s father was Joseph, so I’m named after him.’
‘Did you know your grandfather?’
‘No ma’am, I mean Sarah. He died a long time ago. All my grandparents did.’
‘That’s a shame that you haven’t had the chance to know them then.’
Joe shrugged his shoulders. ‘I guess so. Never had any, so I don’t really miss it, you know?’
Sarah nodded. ‘Yes I suppose it’s different if you never knew the people involved. It’s different when you remember them though.’ Her thoughts drifted back to Sam and once again her mind was a tumble of regrets about things they never had the chance to say or do before he was taken so cruelly from her.
Joe studied the woman’s face in front of him as he chewed. She seemed lost in thought and he thought about how sad she looked. ‘Are you OK?’ he asked.
Sarah shook herself a little and she turned back to him. ‘I’m fine. I was just thinking about someone, that’s all.’
‘Your husband?’ asked Little Joe.
‘What makes you ask that?’ asked Sarah a little sharply.
‘I’m sorry, it’s just that you had that look on your face.’ The boy answered.
‘Yeah, Pa gets it too when he talks about one of our mothers.’
Sarah stared at him. ‘One of your mothers? Didn’t you have just one?’
Joe laughed. ‘Yes of course I did. But Pa’s been married three times. We all have different mothers, me and Adam and Hoss.’
‘Oh yes of course, I think someone told me that once.’ Sarah replied. ‘Your father has had a difficult life, poor man.’
Little Joe looked at the ground for a moment. ‘Yeah I spose he has.’
‘How long ago did your mother die Joseph, I mean Joe?’
‘Eleven years ago. I was five.’
‘Do you remember her?’
‘I don’t really know to tell you the truth. Sometimes I think I do, and then sometimes I think what I remember is what Pa and my brothers have told me about her mixed up in my mind. You know?’ He looked at Sarah with his head on one side, his eyes staring at her intently. He had the most beautiful eyes she had ever seen, and she guessed correctly that they must have been inherited from his mother, as Ben’s were a deep chocolate brown.
‘Yes Joe I think I do know what you mean. Sometimes it’s like that with my memories of Sam my husband as well, and I really have no reason not to remember him.’ She sighed.
Joe stood up, slightly embarrassed that he had said so much to a woman he didn’t really know. ‘I think I’d better get back to work now,’ he said. ‘Pa said I have to make sure I get everything done that you need, and I shouldn’t waste time.’
‘Well then you’d better do as he said,’ laughed Sarah. ‘Wouldn’t want you getting into trouble. I’d hate to think that I was the reason for you not being able to sit down again.’
Joe flushed slightly and grinned at her. ‘No ma’am, I mean Sarah. Pa really gets his point across if you know what I mean.’ He began to climb the ladder again, as Sarah picked up the last of the cookies and bit into it.
During the next few days, little Joe got through a lot of chores for Sarah. After finishing the roof and fixing all the fences, he began to whitewash the barn as well. Sarah realised in those few days just how much she had missed the company of another person, and took the opportunity to talk to him while he worked.
‘You know Joe your Pa was right, you really are a good worker,’ she said one afternoon as she sat in the shade and watched him as he painted.
‘I don’t have a choice living on the Ponderosa. Pa makes sure that we all keep at it. He says that we can’t expect the men to do anything we wouldn’t do.’
Sarah smiled to hear him refer to himself as one of the men. ‘How long have you been working on the ranch Joe?’
‘Well fulltime, just these last few months. But as long as I can remember Pa has made sure that I had plenty of chores to do. He says that it’s the only way to learn. He’s always talking about hard work building character too.’ Joe sighed. ‘Sometimes though, I think I’d rather have less character and more free time.’
Sarah hid another smile. The boy’s honesty amused her and she found herself quite taken with him. ‘I’m sure your Pa must be quite proud of the way you apply yourself though.’
‘Trouble is Pa says I don’t apply myself enough.’ Joe looked at her earnestly from under his hat. ‘I get in a lot of trouble you know.’
‘I thought that might have been the case. The other day you looked as though you were very used to reprimands from your father.’ Sarah said.
‘Yeah, Pa says that I test him to the limit at times. I don’t mean to, but it seems like I just can’t help myself. Seems like the older you get the more there is to remember about behaving. Everyone keeps reminding me about what to do so much, that most of the time I just don’t listen. That’s when I get into real trouble.’ He shrugged his shoulders.
‘From your Pa?’
‘And my brothers. They can be real bossy at times you know. Have you met my brothers?’
‘I’ve met your older brother Adam in town a few times, but I don’t remember ever having spoken to Hoss at all.’
‘Nah, you probably didn’t. Hoss is real shy with ladies. He’d probably run a mile if he saw you coming. I’m helpin’ him to get over it.’
‘Yeah. I’m teachin’ him how to talk to girls. I’m real good at it.’
‘Yeah. I used to think that girls were real silly, but lately I’m getting’ kind of interested in them, you know?’
‘Yes I think I do.’ Sarah was having trouble keeping a straight face. ‘And are they interested in you?’
‘Oh yeah. They think I’m kind of good looking you know.’ He stopped and flushed a little. ‘I s’pose that sounds big headed, doesn’t it?’
‘No not at all. I agree with them.’ Sarah said.
Joe pulled his hat down over his eyes and continued to paint. Sarah felt the awkward silence between them and tried to help him get over his embarrassment. ‘So you and Hoss get on well then?’
Joe grinned as he worked. ‘Yeah, we’re real good friends. Hoss has always looked after me. Adam has too, but we fight more.’
‘Oh? Why is that?’
‘Don’t know really. Pa says it’s because we’re both stubborn.’ He bent over and whispered, ‘Pa’s a bit stubborn himself you know.’ He frowned and looked over his shoulder as if expecting his father to come up behind him. ‘Don’t know why I said that, you won’t tell him will you?’
‘No of course I won’t. I think it sounds like your family all try and take care of you.’
Joe sighed and sat down next to her. ‘Yeah and sometimes I just wish they wouldn’t. I’m grown up now, and I can look after myself, but they seem to think I’m still a little kid, you know?’
Sarah nodded. ‘I’m sure they’re just trying to help you.’
‘Yeah I know, but I get real tired of being bossed around by all three of them. Being here for a few days is a good change.’ He looked at her shyly. ‘I don’t mind being bossed around by you cause you’re nice.’
‘Well thank you Joe, I think you’re quite nice yourself.’
‘Well what’s all this? No work left for you Joseph?’ Joe jumped at the sound of his father’s voice behind him and stood up.
‘Uh, hi Pa. Sarah and me was just talking, while I took a break.’
Ben looked at his son with raised eyebrows, and then turned towards Sarah. ‘Afternoon Sarah, how’s this young son of mine working out? Has he been getting enough done?’
Sarah stood as Ben dismounted. ‘He certainly has. The roof and all the fences are all finished. He’s a good worker.’
‘Glad to hear it. Maybe you can continue to show us just how good you are Joseph, instead of just standing there.’ Ben said with a twinkle in his eye.
Joe continued to look at his father. ‘What? Oh yeah, sure Pa.’ He picked up the brush again and dipped it into the bucket of whitewash.
Ben winked at Sarah who smiled at him. ‘Would you like a drink Ben? Joe and I have just had one.’
‘Thank you that would be just fine,’ he replied.
Sarah motioned him over to the porch and went inside to get it. When she returned they sat together and watched the boy working. ‘Thank you for lending him to me, he really has done a wonderful job.’ Sarah said after a moment. ‘He’s a lovely boy you know, you should be very proud of him.’
‘Well considering what brought him here in the first place, I’m surprised to hear you say that.’
‘I told you before, he didn’t really mean it, Ben.’
‘Whether he did or not, he still has to learn to pay for his mistakes.’
Sarah nodded. ‘Oh I certainly agree. I think you do a wonderful job with him Ben. It must be very difficult for you.’
Ben nodded at her. ‘It has been to be honest. He’s the sort of boy who has always been a challenge. Maybe it’s because he’s the youngest and I’m getting too old to deal with the pranks he pulls.’
‘Oh I’m sure that’s not the case! You’re not that old surely.’ Sarah blushed and put her hand over her mouth. ‘I think that Joe is rubbing off on me, listen to what I just said!’ They both laughed and Little Joe looked over at them from where he was painting. He watched his father and Sarah, contemplating how happy they looked together. His thoughts were abruptly interrupted by his father’s voice.
‘Have you finished there Joseph?’ Joe nodded as Ben stood up. ‘Well then, Sarah, I’ll take this youngster off your hands for the day. He still has his chores to do at home.’ Joe began to pack away the brushes as his father said goodbye to Sarah. ‘I’ll send him back again tomorrow, Sarah. Seems like you still have a few things that could use repairing around here. Keep him for as long as you like.’
‘I’m very grateful to you Ben.’
‘Actually I’m the one who’s grateful to you. These last few days have been very quiet at the ranch without that young man to worry about. As far as I’m concerned you can have him for as long as you like. Life’s a lot more peaceful without him.’
‘You don’t really mean that.’ Sarah said with a grin.
‘No not really, I do miss the boy.’ Ben glanced over at his son with affection. ‘He does kind of keep us on our toes though!’
As Joe walked towards his father and Sarah he heard their peals of laughter again, and smiled to think of them getting on so well together. He liked Sarah and it was nice to see his Pa look happy for a change. He smiled at them both and said to Sarah. ‘See you tomorrow Sarah. I’ll be back bright and early.’
‘Well, whatever magic do you have to get this one up early in the morning?’ asked Ben with a twinkle in his eye as he put his arm around Little Joe’s shoulder. ‘We never have any success doing that at the ranch.’
‘Goodbye Joe, see you tomorrow.’
‘Sarah’s nice, ain’t she Pa?’ asked Little Joe when they had ridden down the road a little.
‘Yes son she is.’ Ben replied.
‘I feel kind of sorry for her cause she’s got no husband and lives all alone. I think she’s kind of lonely.’
‘Yes she probably is.’ Ben replied again.
‘Don’t you think we should invite her to dinner or something Pa?’
‘What? Oh perhaps we should at some time.’
‘When can we invite her to dinner?’
‘Joe, a woman like that would probably feel uncomfortable coming to dinner in an all-male household.’
‘Well …she probably just would that’s all.’
‘Can’t I ask her? If she doesn’t want to, then she’ll just say no.’ Joe asked beseechingly.
‘If you want to, then fine.’ Ben wondered what had brought all this about. His son looked quite happy about something, but somehow Ben couldn’t quite put his finger on what it might be.
‘So will you come?’ Joe asked again, giving Sarah a pleading look.
‘I don’t know Joe. I mean dinner at the Ponderosa sounds lovely, but well ….. Your Pa might think it a little strange that you had asked me.’
‘No, Pa specially wants you to come. He said I should ask you.’ Joe replied. He wasn’t prepared to quite tell the entire truth about how the invitation had come about. ‘He’ll be real disappointed if you don’t come.’
Sarah looked at him for a moment. ‘You’re sure that your Pa said that?’
‘Pa would really like you to come.’ Joe avoided answering the question directly.
‘Well then I’d love to.’ Sarah replied with a smile, and Joe thought just how nice her smile was.
‘She said she’d come.’ Joe let his father know that night as they were having supper. ‘She said she would love to.’
Hoss stopped chewing and looked at his little brother. ‘Why’s she comin anyway?’
Little Joe kicked him under the table. ‘Ow, what was that for?’
‘Sorry Hoss, my foot slipped.’ Little Joe glared at his brother meaningfully, but Hoss failed to get the significance of the look.
‘So, why’s she comin?’ He repeated.
Ben looked at Little Joe before replying. ‘It was Joe’s idea.’
Adam chewed thoughtfully ‘She’s a little old for you younger brother, don’t you think?’
Little Joe blushed. ‘Don’t be dumb Adam! She’s just nice that’s all. Pa thinks so, don’t you Pa?’
Ben put down his coffee cup. ‘Yes Joseph, I said she was very nice. Tragic circumstances surrounding her husband’s death, poor woman.’
‘I don’t think she’s ever gotten over it really,’ said Adam. ‘Anytime I’ve seen her in town she always looks so depressed.’
‘She’s not any more.’ Little Joe replied.
‘What do you mean?’ Ben asked, putting down his cup and looking at his youngest son who was grinning widely.
‘Nothing.’ Little Joe replied. ‘It’s just that she doesn’t look depressed any more, that’s all.’
Adam snorted. ‘It’s a wonder she’s not really depressed with you under her feet all day!’
‘Very funny!’ Little Joe replied glaring at his brother.
‘Joseph if all you can do is fight with your brothers tonight instead of eating, then you’d better leave the table.’ His father admonished.
‘But Pa! Adam said …..’ Joe was silenced by a look from his father, and he sighed as he stood up from the table. ‘I’ve finished anyway.’ He turned to go into the kitchen. ‘I’ll let Hop Sing know about Sarah coming.’
Moments later he and the cook had their heads together in the kitchen, Joe whispering conspiratorially. ‘So it’s got to be a special dinner cause if she likes it, then she might like our family better.’
‘Why you want her like family so much?’ Hop Sing asked.
‘So that she’ll like Pa better of course.’
‘Why you want she like Mr Cartwright better?’
Joe rolled his eyes and explained patiently. ‘Cause they’re both lonely. They might be good for each other, don’t you think?’
Hop Sing frowned before replying. ‘Maybe. Hop Sing not decide until meet lady.’
‘Oh you’ll like her alright, Hop Sing. She’s real nice.’ Little Joe replied with a grin.
As they sat at the table that Friday, night, Little Joe caught the look that Hop Sing gave him behind Ben’s back, and winked back at the cook. He knew he could count on Hop Sing to be on his side! It was obvious that he was also smitten with the lady.
‘Ben this is a truly beautiful home!’ Sarah exclaimed as they drank the coffee that Hop Sing had served at the end of the meal. ‘It must have taken a lot of men to build it.’
‘Pa built it himself.’ Little Joe interrupted. ‘He’s real clever with things like that.’
‘Joseph you make it sound like I did all the work personally. I did have quite a bit of help you know.’ Ben admonished.
‘Yeah, me for one.’ said Adam dryly and they all laughed.
‘Did you design it yourself Ben?’ Sarah asked.
‘Partly. Little Joe’s mother had the main say in what it was to look like.’
‘She must have been a remarkable lady.’ Sarah answered, smiling at Little Joe who grinned back at her.
‘That she was,’ answered Ben. ‘She was a very clever woman and a wonderful mother to the boys as well. Joseph, get her photo from my desk and show it to Sarah please.’
Little Joe stood to do as his father bid, and handed the silver framed photo to Sarah. ‘Heavens,’ she exclaimed. ‘You certainly look like her Joe.’
Ben smiled at his youngest boy. ‘Joe is very like his mother in many ways,’ he said.
‘I’m sure he is. I think your mother would be very proud of you Joe.’ Sarah said sweetly.
There was silence for a moment around the table. ‘He really has done a lot of work at my house for me Ben. You were right about him being a good worker.’
‘Are you sure you’re talking about my little brother?’ asked Hoss, feigning surprise. ‘Seems like the only time he does good work is when he’s forced to.’
‘Ah yes, but remember he is being forced to at the moment,’ said Adam with a grin on his face. ‘Bet that’ll teach him to go into a saloon by himself again.’
Joe glared at his brother for reminding his father of the fact.
Sarah interrupted them as she stood up from the table. ‘Ben I’m sorry but I really should be going now. It’s getting late. ‘The meal was just wonderful Hop Sing, thank you.’
The four Cartwright men stood as well. ‘Would you like me to drive you back home ma’am?’ asked Hoss.
Little Joe interrupted him. ‘Pa, didn’t you say that you was gonna do that?’
Ben stared at his youngest son for a moment. ‘I’d be very pleased to drive you home Sarah. ‘Hoss, would you bring the buggy around please?’
Little Joe smiled as Adam looked at him quizzically. ‘Good night Adam, lovely seeing you,’ said Sarah. ‘See you tomorrow Joe.’
‘Good night,’ said Adam, and sat down at the table again opposite his brother as she and their father left the room. ‘Well, what was all that about?’ he asked Little Joe.
‘All what?’ his younger brother replied.
‘You know exactly what I’m talking about. You weren’t half obvious about it. Why are you so keen on getting Pa and her together?’
‘Cause she’s nice, don’t you think?’
‘Yes, I agree. But it doesn’t mean that Pa necessarily thinks so.’
‘You heard him the other night. He likes her.’
‘Yes he likes her. But there’s an awful lot of difference in liking someone and what you have planned.’ replied Adam.
‘I think they’d be good together. They’re both lonely, and they like each other. What more do you want?’
‘Joe there’s a big difference between liking someone and wanting to be a part of their life. Let Pa make his own choices for heavens sake.’
Little Joe just grinned at him and finished off his coffee.
At that moment Ben was also trying to explain his son’s action to Sarah. ‘I’m sorry about all that Sarah, it was quite obvious what the boy was trying to do. Much and all as Joseph pretends that he is grown up and sophisticated he is still very much a boy most of the time.’
‘Don’t worry about it Ben. I had a fairly good idea that the night was a bit of a ruse by him to get you and I closer. I was prepared to go along with it really because I wanted to have a look at your beautiful home that I’ve heard so much about, to be honest.’ She smiled into the darkness. ‘It really is as beautiful as people have led me to believe.’
‘Well I just hope he didn’t make things too uncomfortable for you, that’s all.’
‘Joe could never do that. I think too much of him. I really don’t know what I’ll do without his company when the time comes for him to finish work at my place,’ replied Sarah.
‘I told you before to keep him as long as you need him,’ said Ben.
‘I know, but really things are pretty well up to date around my house now, and to be honest I’m finding it difficult to think of things for him to do,’ she replied. ‘I’ll have to stop him coming after tomorrow I think.’
Ben grinned at her. ‘That’s a fine way to repay me for the meal tonight. Giving me back my son to worry about again.’
‘I’m sure you’ll survive the challenge,’ she laughed.
‘Yes, but sometimes I’m not so sure that Joseph will. One way or the other, if that boy ever reaches it to manhood it will be a miracle.’ The sound of their laughter filled the darkness around them as the buggy slowly made it’s way towards Sarah’s house.
Sarah was surprised by the knock on the door. She glanced at the clock which read 11am, and wondered who could possibly be announcing themselves at his time. She opened it to see Little Joe standing sheepishly on the porch with his hands behind his back.
‘Joe, hello! What brings you out here?’ she asked, quite pleased to see him. Since he had finished up the work at her house a few days ago, she had missed the boy.
Joe pulled his hat down over his eyes and slowly pulled out a bunch of wildflowers from behind his back with the other hand. ‘Thought you might like these. You said you liked flowers and there are plenty of these up on the hill over there.’ He waved his arm vaguely in the direction of the Ponderosa.
‘Why they’re just beautiful. Thank you, I do like them. Come in and have a drink?’
Joe took off his hat eagerly and stepped quickly into the house. ‘Any more chores you need doing?’
Sarah hid a smile. ‘Not since two days ago, no. At least none that I can think of.’
‘Joe put his head on the side and looked at her. ‘Well if you do, you know who to come to.’
‘I certainly do. Thank you Joe’ said Sarah as she placed a glass on the table for him. ‘Now what have you been up to in the last few days?’
‘Working mostly. Although Pa finally let me back into town yesterday with Hoss to get supplies.’
‘You must have missed being in town, although it’s a pity you had to work while you were there though.’
‘Yeah. Although it’s easy when I’m with Hoss. I can usually trick him into doing all the work for me while I look around.’ Joe stopped abruptly when he realised what he had said. ‘I mean, he likes to do the work all by himself. I usually go and talk to people to give him the chance to do it uninterrupted.’ He looked at her to see if she was accepting his explanation. When Sarah didn’t react he kept going. ‘There were lots of people in town today. People were glad to see me back.’
‘You mean girls were glad to see you back?’ asked Sarah.
‘Yeah, lots of them were.’ Joe frowned at something and fiddled with the glass in front of him.
‘One of them wasn’t, was she?’
‘How did you know that?’ asked Joe looking up surprised.
Sarah shrugged. ‘Just a thought. Who was it?’
Joe sat up straight in his chair. ‘Julie Higgins. Do you know her?’
Sarah nodded her head. ‘She’s Paul Higgin’s daughter isn’t she?’
‘Yes. Well anyway I used to go to school with her. We always got on OK, and she’s real nice looking, you know?’ He looked at Sarah with that lopsided tilt of his head that she had begun to know so well. ‘Anyway when I was in town today she wouldn’t even speak to me. Every time I went to talk to her she just started giggling with her friends.’ He shook his head. ‘She’s changed lately.’
‘Maybe it’s because she’s embarrassed.’ Sarah suggested
‘Embarrassed about what?’ he asked.
‘Talking to you in public.’
‘But she’s talked to me lots of times.’
‘How old is this girl Joe?’ Sarah asked.
‘Sixteen, same as me.’ He replied.
‘Joe sometimes girls of that age don’t quite know how to talk to boys. Especially in front of their friends. Maybe if you tried to talk to her when she’s by herself she might respond to you better.’
‘You think so?’ he asked.
‘Mmm, I do,’ said Sarah with a smile.
‘Well I’ll try it then. Hey, how come you know so much about girls anyway?’
‘I think it’s because I was one myself.’ Sarah replied with a gentle smile. She had a sudden urge to ruffle his unruly curls.
He smiled at her. ‘Oh yeah, I guess you was wasn’t you?’ They both laughed together. ‘You know what Sarah?’
‘It’s nice having someone to ask about girls. My brothers would just make fun of me if I asked them.’
‘I’m sure your Pa wouldn’t though.’
‘No, guess he wouldn’t. But Pa’s just so …. well, you know.’
‘No I don’t know. What is he?’
‘Well he’s just old. I don’t think he’d understand about girls.’
‘Joseph Cartwright! Your Pa has been married three times. If anyone understands about girls, then I think he would qualify.’ Sarah said wagging her finger at him.
‘Yeah I know but, well …. That was a long time ago.’
‘It’s something you don’t forget.’ Sarah said. ‘He’s a lovely man, I’m sure he’d listen to you if you needed advice about girls.’
‘Do you really think he’s lovely?’ asked Joe, his green eyes lighting up.
‘Yes I do. But not in the way you are thinking.’
‘In what way then?’ Joe asked.
‘He is very sweet, much like you are.’ Joe blushed. ‘But it doesn’t mean that we are interested in each other romantically Joe.’
‘But you could be, couldn’t you?’
‘Don’t you ever give up?’ This time she gave into the temptation and ruffled his curls. To her surprise he didn’t seem at all surprised by the gesture and merely smiled at her again. It was strange, she thought, how she was beginning to feel quite protective towards this boy. He seemed to bring out feelings in her that she had only allowed herself to have in her dreams, and she was quite surprised to feel them now in reality.
Later on that morning after he had left and she was arranging the flowers he had brought in a vase, she smiled to think of the boy’s earnestness. He had such energy and a love of life that it was infectious. There was an innocence to him that she found so very appealing. It was an innocence that was not a naivety, but merely a way of looking at things in a guileless way. It was an innocence that was very special, and made Sarah long for past days when life had been so simple for her as well.
‘I suppose there’s no point in asking what you’re doing with your afternoon off Joseph?’ Ben asked with a smile on his face. He knew very well what the answer would be.
‘I thought I’d see if Sarah wanted to go riding.’ His youngest son answered with his mouth full.
‘Somehow I thought you might, answered his father, trying to hide his amusement behind his coffee cup. For the past month, little Joe had been giving Sarah riding lessons on one of their mares, and he was taking the responsibility very seriously. Since he had found out that she couldn’t ride well, he had seen it as his duty to ensure that she could, and as with most things in life would not be talked out of it.
‘How are the lessons coming?’ asked Adam.
‘Good. She’s a good rider really, she just needs confidence,’ replied his little brother.
‘I’d better go. She’ll be waiting for me.’ He stood up and excused himself from the table, then bounded across the room and shut the front door with a bang.
Ben laughed. ‘That boy will never learn to move without a ruckus.’
Adam frowned. ‘Pa, do you think he should be doing this?’
‘Spending so much time with Sarah. He doesn’t seem to do much else lately, and I just wonder if it’s good for him to spend so much time with her.’
‘Why ever not?’ asked Ben with a frown.
‘Well he never seems to want to go into town any more or even see his friends much.’
‘And that’s a bad thing?’ Ben replied with a smile. ‘I seem to remember you complaining that all he wanted to do was waste his time with his friends in town before he got to know Sarah.’
‘Yes I know, but it just seems to me that he should have friends his own age, that’s all.’
‘I don’t think he sees Sarah as a friend really, Adam.’ Ben said.
‘What? You don’t mean ….’
‘No of course not! But I do think he sees her as a sort of mother substitute in a way.’
‘But she’s not his mother.’ Adam protested.
‘Of course she’s not. Does she have to be? All I know is that she seems to be a calming influence on him, and that has got to be a positive thing.’
‘I suppose so.’ Adam replied. ‘I just don’t think that he should be so dependent on her. You know how he gets sometimes, so intense on things that he can’t see around them. He could end up being hurt Pa.’
‘Yes he could. But what would you have me do Adam? Stop him from seeing her?’
Adam shrugged his shoulders. ‘No of course not. I don’t know. Forget it Pa.’ He stood up and left the table.
Ben sat deep in thought. In a way he agreed with Adam. Joseph’s friendship with Sarah had worried him a little too. The boy had suffered from not having a mother, and now that he had found a woman who was filling a gap in his life, how could Ben take that away from him? A mother’s love was something that Joseph had never known, and he felt that he was reaching for a substitute now. Maybe he would be hurt in the long run, but surely he had a right to form an attachment to this woman if he felt the need to.
Ben sighed. There was no easy answer to this one.
‘Come on, you can do it!’ Little Joe urged Sarah down the hill after him. She followed willingly, gathering speed as she went. As they reached the bottom she pulled in the reins and turned to him laughing, her eyes bright and sparkling. ‘That was wonderful Joe! I really didn’t think I could do it though!’
‘I knew you could. You’ve got the skills now, you just need the confidence, that’s all.’ Joe replied.
Sarah wondered if he knew just how meaningful his words were. This newfound riding skill had shown her that she did have confidence after all. She realised now that it was a lack of confidence that had been the problem in her life during the last two years. Of course she missed Sam dreadfully and of course she wished he was still here, but the reason she had not been ready to move on with her life had been because she lacked the confidence to do so on her own. She knew that now.
She had always allowed Sam to take the lead in their marriage and make the major decisions. It had seemed natural to her that with no children to care for, the major decisions had always been his to make. Since his death she had found it incredibly difficult to carry on with making those decisions herself, and it had taken a sixteen-year-old boy to show her that she was capable of coming out of her shell to do so. She would be eternally grateful to this special youngster for showing her just what she could do.
Sarah thought about all the missed opportunities she had had in life. It was true that she had been so happy with Sam, but she had never had the opportunity to experience the joys of motherhood. It was something that she had ached for. Every time she had needed to congratulate a new mother she had felt the loss so sharply that she found it difficult to be glad for them. She had always longed to have a connectedness to another life that was a part of hers, to have the opportunity to shape a little mind and body, to watch it grow. But it was not to be. She and Sam had never been blessed with a child, and she had never stopped feeling the loss.
Sarah wondered if Joe was in fact stirring up those feelings within her that she had for years been trying to suppress. The maternal instincts that are in every woman and somehow been lying dormant within her. All she knew for sure was that this young man was in her mind and she couldn’t seem to let go of him, and she sensed that it was in fact the same for him. Whether he realised it or not, young Joe Cartwright was searching for a mother figure in his life.
She was shaken out of her reflections by Joe’s insistent voice next to her. ‘Sarah?’
She turned to him. ‘Yes Joe?’
‘I want to show you something. Can you ride down this way?’
She turned her horse and followed him down the steep incline towards the blue lake that was stretched before them. They passed through a shaded area of pines and emerged into a clearing that bordered onto the lake itself. Sarah took a moment to stop and drink in the freshness around her, and marvel at the sparkling water in front of her.
‘This is beautiful Joe.’ She breathed. ‘What a wonderful view.’
‘Joe looked around him as well. ‘It’s my favourite place on the Ponderosa. Come on and I’ll show you why.’ He led her to the right and around a rocky outcrop, and into another clearing that was covered with soft grass. It was here that he stopped and helped her down from her horse. She followed him towards the lake, and they stopped at a stone marker on a small grassy knoll. Sarah knew instantly what it was without being told.
‘It’s my mother’s grave,’ said Joe quietly. I like to come here and talk to her sometimes.’ They sat next to the marker, and Sarah read the inscription:
Beloved wife and mother
They sat in silence for a few moments, and Joe pulled up a few wildflowers beside him and put them on top of the grave. ‘Sarah?’ he raised his green eyes and searched her face.
‘Yes Joe?’ she put her hand on his knee.
‘Do you remember what I said once before when we were talking about people we never knew?’
‘It’s not true you know. You do miss them even if you didn’t really know them very well.’ His eyes shone with unshed tears, and he brushed his sleeve across his face to hide the fact. ‘I wish I could have known her ….. you know, not just as a little kid.’
‘I do know Joe. But I think she knows about you and that must be a comfort to you at least.’
‘That’s what Pa says too.’ Joe replied looking at the marker. ‘He says that she knows all about me as I’ve been growing up, and that she looks after me.’ He sighed. ‘But it’s not the same, you know?’ Sarah nodded and put her arm around his shoulder.
‘When I was little I really wanted her to come back. I guess I didn’t understand that she couldn’t, and I was angry.’
‘You were too young to understand Joe,’ answered Sarah quietly stroking his curls.
‘Yes but at least that was better than the way it is now,’ he answered, the tears falling unchecked down his cheeks as he looked at her. ‘Now I understand properly and it doesn’t make it any better. Sometimes when I see my friends with their mothers it hurts so much. I just don’t remember what it was like, and I want to have some memories of her at least.’
Sarah drew him to her and pulled his head down onto her shoulder as she stroked his hair. ‘Joe nothing will ever bring her back to you. But at least you have your father and brothers.’
He sniffed. ‘Yes, Pa and Adam and Hoss are real good to me too, but ……’ his voice trailed away.
‘But they aren’t her, are they?’ Sarah said softly.
He lifted his head and looked deep into her eyes. ‘No.’ he whispered. ‘No they’re not her.’
They sat in silence for a few moments and looked at the lake. Joe reached down and picked a single wildflower and handed it to Sarah. She wished that there was something she could say that would change the situation or make it better, but she knew that there wasn’t. This boy had been carrying around this sadness most of his life, and it would never leave him.
The noise from the street drifted into the bank where Sarah was waiting patiently for the teller to finish. ‘Thank you,’ she said as he handed her the money she had asked for, and smiled at him. ‘Have a lovely day.’ The young man looked at her with surprise. Usually Mrs Miller was a bit more reserved than that and hardly acknowledged him at all.
Sarah blinked in the sunlight as she emerged from the bank and scanned the street. She turned sharply as she heard her name, and smiled to see Daisy hurrying towards her. ‘Hello Daisy,’ she said with a huge smile. ‘How are you today?’
‘I’m fine. No need to ask how you are though, you look wonderful.’ Daisy looked at her friend appraisingly.
‘I feel wonderful.’ Sarah replied. ‘Isn’t it busy today? All these people around makes me just want to stay in town all day.’ She looked around at the rush around her with sparkling eyes.
Daisy raised her eyebrows at her friend. ‘Really? You usually can hardly wait to get out of here and back home again. What’s so different about today?’
‘Nothing really, can’t I just be happy?’ Sarah teased with a smile.
‘Of course you can, and it’s wonderful to see it.’ Daisy smiled back at her. ‘Come on back to my place and we’ll sit and have a talk.’ The two friends linked arms and commenced to stroll up the street. ‘Now tell me what’s been happening with you lately? That young Cartwright boy still making a nuisance of himself?’
Sarah threw back her head and laughed. ‘No, never! He’s just such a lovely young boy Daisy. I’m very lucky to have had the chance to get to know him.’
‘Hmm. Well all I can say is watch out that he doesn’t ask to borrow your buggy.’ The two friends giggled together and entered Daisy’s kitchen where they sat down. ‘So, have you heard from John yet?’ Daisy asked when they were seated.
‘No not yet, but it’s only been a week,’ Sarah replied. ‘The mail isn’t that quick from San Francisco.’
‘I think it’s a wonderful idea,’ said Daisy. ‘It’s time you got out of here and made a new life for yourself. Your brother John and his wife will be glad to have you for a while I’m sure, and you’ll make lots of new friends in San Francisco.’
‘Daisy it’s only to see if it suits me. Who knows, I might decide to come back.’ Her eyes took on a faraway look. ‘There are a few things around here that I’ll miss you know.’
‘I hope that includes me,’ Daisy said.
Sarah reached out and put her hand on her friend’s arm. ‘Of course it does. But I was thinking of a few other people as well.’
‘Didn’t know you really had many friends around here at all,’ replied Daisy.
‘I don’t really. But the ones I have are very special to me.’ Sarah smiled sadly. ‘I’ll miss the special ones.’
They turned when they heard the soft tinkle of the bell that was attached to the front door, and were startled to see Ben Cartwright standing there. Daisy jumped up. ‘Mr Cartwright, what brings you in here today?’ she asked with a smile.
‘Ben took off his hat and smiled at both the women. ‘Good morning ladies. Hope you’re both well. Actually I saw you both coming in, and I was wondering if perhaps Sarah you might have a few moments to talk?’ he looked inquiringly in her direction.
‘Of course I do Ben,’ she answered.
Daisy backed away. ‘I’ll just go and get some ….. I’ve got things to do. I’ll leave you both for a while.’ she murmured.
Sarah giggled as Ben sat down next to her. ‘Now you’ve got her wondering. I hope you’re ready for a bit of gossip, Ben.’
‘Don’t worry Sarah. I think my name has been coupled with just about every single woman who has ever set foot in Virginia City. I’m used to it.’ Ben laughed. ‘My youngest son might just welcome the gossip as well. He still hasn’t given up on us you know.’
‘I know,’ replied Sarah. ‘I think he would like to see me in his family officially.’
Ben’s smile faded. ‘Actually Sarah, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about. Joseph seems quite taken with you, I’m sure you’re aware of that fact.’ She nodded. ‘I think you’re a very good influence on him, if the truth be known. Since he’s known you he hasn’t been in nearly as much trouble, and he has been a lot calmer lately.’
‘I’m glad. He’s such a wonderful boy Ben, and you really should be very proud of him.’
‘I am,’ Ben replied, ‘but I worry about him too. I don’t know if he’s told you much about his mother…..’
‘Yes he has as a matter of fact. He took me to her grave and we had quite a long talk there.’ Sarah replied.
‘He took you to her grave?’ Ben asked surprised. ‘He has never done that with anyone before.’ He thought for a moment. ‘That worries me.’
‘How so?’ Sarah asked.
‘It just shows how close he is getting to you. Please don’t take this the wrong way Sarah,’ Ben continued, ‘but I am concerned that he’s becoming too dependent on you. You see Joseph has always missed not having a mother, and I feel that he is reaching towards you as a sort of substitute.’
‘Actually Ben I have been feeling the same thing,’ replied Sarah. ‘It’s one of the reasons I have decided to go away for a while.’
‘Yes. I’ve asked my brother John if I could stay with he and his wife in San Francisco for a while until I work out what I want to do with my life. You see, since knowing your son I have come to realise that there is more to life then just existing. He has a great zest for living Ben, and I guess that some of that has rubbed off on me. All I know is that I feel like I want to go out and experience more of living now.’
Ben smiled at her. ‘I’m glad for you Sarah, and I think it will be good for you. Good for Joseph in the long run too, although I know he will find your leaving hard. When do you intend to go?’
‘As soon as I hear from John, which will probably be in a couple of days. I will make sure that I say goodbye to Joe before I do go, though.’
‘Be prepared for him to be upset,’ replied Ben. ‘He has grown so fond of you, I dread to think how he’ll take this.’
‘I’ve grown so very fond of him too,’ replied Sarah. ‘I’ll find it difficult to say goodbye to him as well. You have a very special son there Ben, but I think you know that.’
‘Yes I certainly do,’ replied Ben. ‘I’d like to thank you for giving him your friendship during these last few weeks Sarah. He has never had a woman like you in his life, and I know that he’ll always remember you fondly.’
‘Do you think it would be alright if he came to visit me in San Francisco when I get settled?’ she asked.
‘Of course it would,’ replied Ben. ‘I’ll bring him there myself.’ He stood to leave and held out his hand. ‘Goodbye Sarah, until we meet again.’
She held his hand for a moment and looked into his eyes. ‘Goodbye Ben Cartwright. Take care of that boy for me.’
‘But why do you have to go? I don’t understand.’ Joe looked at Sarah and his eyes filled with tears. He brushed them away impatiently and glared at her accusingly.
‘I need to go and see my brother in San Francisco for a while Joe, I haven’t seen him in a long time.’
When will you be back?’ he asked.
‘I don’t really know. I think I will end up staying there quite a long time.’ Joe stared at her. ‘I really need to sort my life out Joe, and I feel the need to spread my wings a little. Do you understand what I mean?’
‘Sure.’ Joe stood up abruptly and moved towards the door. ‘Have a nice time.’
Sarah moved quickly after him and held onto his arm. ‘Joe please listen to me. I don’t want to hurt you …..’
He shrugged his shoulders and shook off her arm. ‘You’re not hurting me. Why would you think that you are?’ He gave her an angry look. ‘Go if you want to, it doesn’t worry me at all.’ He opened the door and strode out. Sarah ran after him and called to him, but her words were lost to him as he galloped away.
‘Joe? Breakfast is ready. Come on downstairs now son.’ Ben looked around the bedroom door to see the bed empty and his youngest son standing by the window looking out at the lake spread below them. When he didn’t move, Ben entered the room. ‘Joe? It’s time for breakfast.’
‘I’m not hungry.’
Ben walked over to him and pulled him away from the window by the arm. ‘Sit down on the bed. Come on.’ He patted the boy on the arm and sat down next to him. ‘Joe I know you are upset that Sarah is leaving today, but …..’
I’m not upset!’ Joe glared at his father, his green eyes flashing. ‘I really don’t care if she goes or not.’
‘Ben bit his lip and continued. ‘Joe there is still time to go and see her off if you want to.’
‘I think it would be a good idea if you did, his father continued.
Joe turned to him. ‘Why should I? She doesn’t care about me, so why should I care about saying goodbye to her?’
‘Sarah does care about you Joe, you know that she does. She has become very close to you these last few weeks as I know you have to her.’
‘Then why is she going?’ the boy asked pleadingly. ‘If she cared then she wouldn’t leave.’
‘Joe, Sarah doesn’t belong to you. She has her own life to live, and she needs to do that in San Francisco. She has to go.’
‘Everyone always has to go, don’t they? Nobody ever stops to consider about me!’ Joe felt the tears falling and couldn’t do anything to stop them. ‘What about what I want Pa?’
‘Joe, surely you can’t expect everyone to live according to what you want. Sarah has to live her life her own way.’ Ben stroked the back of his son’s neck in a comforting gesture.
‘I know, but it’s just that I ……’ the boy’s voice trailed away and he sat with his head bowed.
‘I know,’ said his father. ‘It’s hard Joe, but sometimes we just have to let go of people we love.’
Joe lifted his head and stared at his father intently. ‘I do love her Pa,’ he whispered.
‘I know you do. Don’t you think she would like to hear that before she goes?’ Joe sat in silence. ‘Would you like me to ride into town with you to see her off?’ Ben continued.
Joe nodded while the tears fell unchecked from his face. ‘Yes.’
Sarah handed the driver her ticket and adjusted her hat as she smiled at Daisy. ‘Thank you so much for everything Daisy.’ She scanned the street hopefully one last time. ‘Would you please let Ben know that I said goodbye to him and Joe?’
Daisy flung her arms around her friend as she replied. ‘Of course. Don’t you worry about that boy now, dear. He’ll survive.’
‘I know he will, it’s just that ….’ She stopped as she saw a familiar pinto come around the bend in the street, followed closely by Ben. She smiled broadly as she continued. ‘Looks like I’ll be able to deliver that message myself after all.’
Joe dismounted and walked towards Sarah, holding out a bunch of wildflowers in front of him. ‘I thought you might like these for the journey. There’s lots of them up there still and you always said that you ….’ He stopped unable to go on, and looked down at the dusty street at his feet.
Sarah reached out for them and pulled him towards her as she did. ‘Thank you Joe. I’ll always remember you every time I see wildflowers. You’ve brought me quite a few haven’t you?’
He nodded as he buried his head into her shoulder. ‘I know you like em that’s all.’ He whispered.
Sarah drew back from him and held his face between his two hands. ‘I love you Joe, do you know that? I love you with a very special kind of love. I always will.’
Joe swallowed and bit his lip. ‘I love you too Sarah.’
‘Your Pa says that he’ll bring you to visit me in San Francisco soon. So we’re not really saying goodbye are we?’ Joe shook his head as the tears began to fall. ‘I’ll write and let you know when. Alright?’
‘Goodbye Joe. Until we meet again.’
Joe gave her one last hug. ‘Goodbye Sarah, I love you.’ He turned and walked a few steps away.
‘Safe trip Sarah,’ said Ben as he helped her up into the stagecoach. He turned as the stage began to move slowly away, and stood next to his boy with an arm around his shoulder. Their last sight of the stage as it rounded the corner was of a small bunch of wildflowers waving at them from the window.
As Ben put the letter back into his pocket, he fingered the postmark from San Francisco for a moment. Gazing down the slope he saw Joe stooping to pick another few flowers to add to the posy he already held, and then straighten up. As he walked down towards his son he watched him squat next to his mother’s grave and place the flowers on it, then look up as he heard his father’s approach.
‘Oh hi Pa, I didn’t know you was coming out this way.’
‘I was looking for you son.’ Ben replied sitting down next to him.
‘Why? What did I do?’ Joe looked at his father uneasily.
Ben smiled at him and put his arm around his shoulders. ‘I didn’t say you did anything.’
He looked across the sparkling waters for a moment before he continued. ‘Sure is a pretty day.’
Joe looked at his father, puzzled. ‘You sure didn’t come out here just to tell me that.’
Ben shook his head. ‘No I didn’t. Actually I came to tell you there was a letter from San Francisco today in the mail.’
Joe sat up straight, his eyes shining. ‘From Sarah? How is she? Did she say when she wants us to come there?’ He looked at his father. ‘Pa? What did Sarah say?’
‘Ben turned to face his son. ‘Actually Joe it’s not from Sarah.’
‘Not from Sarah? Then who is it from?’
‘Her brother John.’ There was silence as Joe digested this information. ‘Why’s he writing to us? Why didn’t Sarah write Pa?’
‘Joe, John wrote to tell us that Sarah was killed three days ago. There was an accident and she …..’
‘No!’ the word cut across the air between them like a knife. Joe stared at his father with wide eyes, his face suddenly pale. ‘No! It’s not true!’
Ben pulled his son towards him. ‘I wish to God it wasn’t true Joe. But it is. She wouldn’t have suffered son, she was ……’
Joe pulled himself away from his father. ‘No!’ he repeated for a third time. ‘It can’t be true. Not Sarah. No!’ He put his head in his hands and began to sob. ‘Why Pa? Why?’
Ben didn’t know what to say to him. He knew so well the feeling of grief, and there was little he could say to lessen the ache that he knew was piercing through the soul of his son. He reached for Joe again and held him to his chest while he stroked his head and waited for the initial outburst to subside.
‘Joe I’ve been through this before and I know how you’re feeling son.’
Joe looked up at his father through his tears. ‘No Pa you don’t know. I know that you think you do, but you don’t. Sarah was so special to me Pa. She was sorta like I imagined my mama to be, you know?’
Ben sighed. ‘Yes son I do. But she wasn’t your mother. She was a wonderful woman, but she wasn’t your mother Joe.’
Joe hung his head and whispered, ‘I know.’
Ben looked at the grave next to them and his eyes were drawn to the bright myriad of colours in the flowers that Joe had placed there. ‘They were different women, but they were both special. They both loved you in their own special way. Hold on to the love Joe. It’s what will get you through this.’ He tightened his grip around the boy’s shoulders. ‘Believe me Joe, I know.’
Father and son sat there together as the shadows lengthened around them and the dusk fell with the death of another day. Finally they stood and Ben led his boy away from the lake with his arm around him. As they reached their horses Joe bent down and picked a wildflower. He fingered it gently as he stared at it through his tears, and then placed it gently in his pocket. He slowly got on his horse and turned to follow his father back home.
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